Don’t Disrupt, Create Better Options

Throughout the school year a university in Mexico, Cetys, invited experts from outside to come to campus and talk about different topics to its students. I was invited to talk about disruptive innovation, but the COVID-19 virus changed that and classes and all other activities were cancelled.

Still, the students wanted to hear from me and suggested we do the thing online. You bet, I said. So we connected through Google Meet and I delivered the topic. The main point I wanted the students to take away is that disruption isn’t about destruction, it’s about creating new products / services, new choices for more people.

Nowadays “disrupt” is thrown around as if everyone is doing it. Disruption is even used to describe individuals who are simply driving change in their domain. Truthfully, disruption is rare. Most of the “innovation” that happens is sustaining: incremental improvements to existing products and services.

True disruption improves the market, not the product or services. So it takes time, it doesn’t happen in weeks, or months. It happens in years and sometimes decades. And importantly, disruption isn’t about copying a product or service and simply making it cheaper so other people can have it. It’s not.

A disruptive innovation gives new consumers access to product or service only available to consumers with a lot of money or skill. This product or service is more simple than what currently exists, and disruption happens when the initial consumers adopt these products or services precisely because they’re more simple than what they were given initially.

Incumbents are then forced to react. And most of the time they’re late and end up falling behind. But, again, it’s easier said than done.

With that said, if you’re dissatisfied with the status quo, go change things up before someone else does. But don’t describe what you’re doing as disruptive. Because disruption happens after, not during.

Bottom line: Innovation doesn’t have to be disruptive. Aim to create better options.

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